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Home / Science / Iridium eager to complete upgraded network with Falcon 9 launch Friday – Spaceflight Now

Iridium eager to complete upgraded network with Falcon 9 launch Friday – Spaceflight Now

Iridium artist concept Upcoming satellites providing aircraft monitoring coverage. Credit: Aireon

The launch of 10 additional enhanced spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will complete the construction of Iridium's $ 3 billion new global communications network, which will allow the debut of new bandwidth-based services broads and airplanes months

With the launch of Friday, SpaceX and Iridium will join for the launch of 75 payloads on eight Falcon 9 flights from January 2017, giving Iridium a new full complement spacecraft to replace and upgrade its network data transmission and voice obsolete.

The Falcon 9 rocket 229 feet (70 meters) tall, powered by a re-used first-stage repeater that previously flew to Cape Canaveral in September, is ready for take-off at 7:31:33 PST (10: 31 am) : 33 EST, 1531: 33 GMT) Friday from Vandenberg Air Base, California. The two-stage rocket will deploy the 10 satellites – built in collaboration by Thales Alenia Space and Northrop Grumman Innovations Systems – one at a time for a period of 15 minutes approximately one hour after take-off.

SpaceX plans to land the Falcon 9 first stage after Friday's launch on a drone vessel positioned in the Pacific Ocean just a few hundred miles south of Vandenberg. The ship's hull recovery ship, Mr. Steven, should not attempt to catch Falcon 9's nose on Friday.

Matt Desch, Iridium's CEO, told reporters before the launch that the addition of an additional 10 satellites to the network – enough to complete the total replacement of the constellation – is "a huge deal."

Iridium already has 65 next-generation "Iridium Next" satellites in orbit, and everyone is "happy and healthy", Desch said. The company's communications network operates on 66 active satellites distributed over six orbital planes, as well as spare parts, with inter-satellite radio links for voice and data traffic without connecting via ground-based stations to Earth.

Iridium's first-generation "Block 1" satellites, built by Lockheed Martin, launched from 1997 to 2002 and designed for seven-year missions. Most of the fleet survived that projection for life, and the new satellites have a dual mission in place of the obsolete and obsolete constellation of the society of the '90s, and as vehicles to introduce new services to expand beyond the phone and Iridium phone relay message functions.

The satellites set for Friday's launch will head into plane 3 of the Iridium fleet, and the take-off is scheduled for the second with an instant launch window to accurately position the payloads in the correct orbit.

The new Iridium services, called Iridium Certus, will enable customers to transmit and receive messages with higher bandwidth, including high-definition video and Internet connections. Designed for ships, aircraft and other users on the go, Iridium Certus will provide Iridium customers with up to 1.4 megabits per second of L-band connectivity, starting at 128 kilobits per second available with the previous generation of satellites.

Each Iridium Next satellite also houses a host radio receiver for Aireon, a subsidiary of Iridium created in collaboration with air traffic control authorities in Europe and Canada. The Aireon instrumentation will track air traffic around the world, including aircraft that travel out of range of conventional ground radars.

The Iridium Next satellites were connected to their dispensers inside a clean room at the Vandenberg Air Base in California, prior to coupling to the Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Iridium

"We arrived at Iridium in 2007 and we started seriously in 2010. There was a lot of excitement when our first launch was finally done two years ago, on the 14th January 2017, which was incredible and very important But our final launch … is by far the most important milestone of all. "Desch said.

"I'm sure you can imagine some of the reasons why," he continued. "The completion of a $ 3 billion network upgrade, the new services we will be able to launch such as broadband Iridium Certus, IoT more efficient (Internet of Things) and Aireon, the financial transformation that will allow the Iridium But for me, this launch symbolizes something even more important: it means finally fulfilling the dream that the founders of this system were more than 30 years ago, which means that our network will finally achieve financial independence and security that makes a mature and successful satellite network operator, and creates many opportunities for us that we have never had before.This is a big problem for our customers, our partners and, frankly, for the industry itself. "[19659003] Originally supported by Motorola, Iridium was a pioneer in the space and communications industry, deploying the first fleet of commercial satellites of its size in orbit. But Iridium declared bankruptcy shortly after launching its first series of satellites. A new company set up to track Iridium's activities, including satellites already in space, with a new commercial strategy after high prices and weak demand have condemned the original concept of Iridium.

Iridium has more than a million subscribers on its customer list, and the US Department of Defense is one of the company's main customers, along with air and sea transport operators, land transport providers and users in the mining industries , forestry, oil and gas.

"What are the prospects after Iridium Next?" This response is very ", said Desch. "The first new service we are going to present is our special L-band broadband service, called Iridium Certus.The name Certus is actually Latin, and means reliable, determined, sure and certain, all the adjectives that we believe define Iridium and our new single broadband service.

"We have spent all the 2018 tests and ready for the Iridium Certus market and the data evidence is almost complete. In fact, they are complete for some of our service providers, who are already starting to provide service to their maritime customers before the official commercial launch. The official launch of Iridium Certus is imminent. "

Desch said that the Iridium Certus offering will provide" safety-of-life "broadband connectivity for crews and maritime pilots.In a conference call with journalists last week, he suggested that the new service broadband bandwidth of Iridium's L-band will not compete with high-speed geostationary satellites and planned "mega-constellations" of hundreds or thousands of low-earth orbit spacecraft in the Ka and Kunda band, which targets the individual consumer market .

"Iridium Certus is applicable to any vertical sector, from maritime and air transport to mobile, and the Internet of objects," said Desch. "We are focusing the service on life security applications and on other important specialized broadband applications. We think that today is about a 700 million dollar market, which we will enter, mainly served by a satellite operator (Inmarsat), and we think that our service will be superior from all points of view. "

The Internet of Things is an industry term for when a type of network that transmits data, measurements and other signals between numerous objects around the world, from anything, from remote meteorological buoys to critical shipments traveling by road, sea or air.

"Iridium Certus is not designed to compete with high-throughput mega-constellations, or anyone using Ka, Ku, or other bands," said Desch. "The Iridium Certus is complementary. For example, in maritime applications today, L-band terminals are often installed as a complement to VSAT (Ku- or Ka-band) terminals on board for coverage and security purposes. "

In its favor, L-band communications typically require a smaller ground receiver than the Ku- or Ka band, and the L band is less susceptible to interference from rain, fog and thunderstorms, making it ideal for critical services But the Ku- and Ka band offer more bandwidth than the L-band.

"In aeronautical applications, Iridium Certus will be in the cockpit providing operational and safety communications at optimal levels, while the Ka and the band Ku will be in the cabin for everyone to use WiFi for entertainment services, "said Desch.

The Falcon 9 rocket ready for launch at the eighth SpaceX mission for Iridium is located in the Space Launch Complex 4 -East at the Vandenberg Air Base, California Credit: SpaceX

Like the previous SpaceX launches for Iridium, the Falcon 9 rocket is programmed to place the new satellites on Friday in a polar orbit. and about 388 miles (625 kilometers) above the Earth.

Each of the 1,896 lbs (860-kilograms) Iridium Next's satellites will use their engines to climb a higher altitude of 476 miles (780 kilometers) into orbit, where six of the new spacecraft will meet with the last of the old satellites of Block 1. The ground controllers at Iridium's network operations center in Leesburg, Virginia, instantly transfer the traffic from the old satellite to the new boat without interruption of the commercial service, in a procedure that the company calls a "slot exchange".

The other four satellites that launch Friday are destined to be spares in the Iridium fleet.

"This will bring the total number of new Iridium satellites into orbit at 75, and after a thorough verification and validation process lasting several weeks, we will officially complete our new constellation," Desch said.

Iridium ordered 81 Iridium Next satellites from the Thales Alenia Space / Northrop Grumman team. Desch said the remaining six satellites not yet launched will remain in a state ready for ground flight and could be launched in the coming years to replenish the constellation.

Engineers are turning off Iridium's retreating satellites when new orbit transmission stations arrive. Most of the old satellites have been maneuvered out of orbit to fall back into the earth's atmosphere, and all will undergo a procedure known as "passivation", in which their batteries and propellant tanks are drained, rendering them inert and reducing the possibility of an explosion in the future.

The blasts of iridium, a popular phenomenon for sky watchers over the last 20 years, will end when the last of the old satellites is withdrawn. Iridium satellites built by Lockheed Martin have silver-coated Teflon antennas that act like mirrors, reflecting sunlight on Earth just before dawn and just after sunset.

The flashes are predictable – on the second – and the satellite briefly becomes one of the brightest objects in the night sky. The apps and websites that look up to the sky can provide the times for the upcoming Iridium rockets anywhere in the world.

The Iridium Next satellites designed by Thales Alenia Space have a different shape of the antenna that does not produce glare.

"It's a sad moment for the global flare-watching community," said Desch. "This will be gone".

Preparations for Aireon for tests of air navigation in the North Atlantic

The aircraft monitoring service operated by Aireon will also take a big step towards start operations with Friday's launch.

Aireon states that his service, which uses Harris Corp. receivers to collect aircraft position data, will ensure air traffic controllers know where airplanes are located around the world, reducing blind spots in routes transoceanic traffic, improving security

Air traffic authorities in Canada, Ireland, Italy, Denmark and the United Kingdom are part of the Aireon joint venture with Iridium and air traffic management organizations are also being set up in Africa, in the United States and elsewhere in Europe to use the system.

"With the complete constellation of Iridium Next, Aireon will have air traffic monitoring data in real time comparable to those of land systems, but for the entire planet, I" In addition to the oceans and remote areas where it has never existed before, "said Don Thoma, CEO of Aireon.

The Aireon system works by collecting position data transmitted by aircraft equipped with ADS-B technology: Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology, or ADS-B , allows an aircraft to determine its position via satellite navigation, then transmit the position immediately.

This reduces the dependence of air traffic controllers from outdated radar to track aircraft movements, but the ADS-B ground-based receivers have the same limitations as radar – they do not allow uninterrupted monitoring of planes over oceans and other remote regions.

When airplanes fly out of radar, pilots are ge responsible for maintaining a certain route and altitude, ensuring between 30 and 100 miles (about 50-150 km) of separation between aircraft for security purposes. With real-time global monitoring, these requirements could be relaxed.

The Aireon receivers on each of the Iridium Next satellites are designed to collect the same ADS-B signals already transmitted by most airplanes. US and European regulators have requested that all commercial passenger airliners be equipped with ADS-B technology by 2020.

"This was the reason behind the creation of Aireon," said Thoma. "It has been clear for many years that a complete and truly global air surveillance system is a must-have, not only for the efficiency of air traffic management, but for the safety of all those traveling by air. [19659014] "Aireon will support major improvements in safety, including better awareness of the situation of controllers, reducing … the separation of aircraft and the elimination of security gaps due to lack of real-time surveillance", Thoma said. "It will reduce the response time of the controller to normal situations, such as meteorological deviations or navigation errors by pilots and, of course, improve search and rescue response times.

"The use of Aireon will improve the efficiency of air traffic through the optimization of flight trajectories and improved traffic flows and real-time surveillance will allow airlines to plan and pilot more routes direct, saving significant amounts of fuel. "

According to Thoma, the certification of the Aireon system is expected to be completed by March, allowing operational tests using satellite ADS – Position B data will begin in April in the North Atlantic Ocean for the Busy air transport corridor between North America and Europe.

The Canadian and British authorities will monitor these processes, while the Federal Aviation Administration is trying to conduct similar operational tests in the Caribbean.

"The final launch is very significant Aireon," said Thoma. "Delivering the last 10 payloads into orbit will finally complete the Aireon network, and once the Aireon payloads are integrated into the constellation, our team of engineers and launch customers will complete a series of tests to provide the final validation and certification of the system for operational use for air traffic control. "

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1 .

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